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If the Cardinals Are Honest About Wanting To Win, Jose Martinez Must Play

The Cardinals need to clean up at the cleanup spot.

Hello there, Jose Martinez!

It doesn’t matter that Martinez is a 29-year-old rookie with only 185 big-league plate appearances to his name.

It doesn’t matter that his winding journey to the majors took nearly 10 years and more than 3,600 minor-league plate appearances before the Cardinals gave him a gig late last summer.

Martinez doesn’t project as a core piece of this team’s future. He isn’t on any Top Prospects lists, and the Cardinals are overstocked with young, on-the-rise outfielders.

If Martinez is overexposed to MLB pitching, we may see his weaknesses exploited. He could lose confidence, and it might mean the end of his big-league dream. But don’t worry about that now. Your team is 3.5 games out of first place, and Martinez is a dependable source of offense. So use him.

The Cardinals can’t be picky or snobby here. Martinez may lack favorite-son status, or endorsements from Baseball America. But he can hit, dammit.

He’s hit, and hit and hit.

Martinez hits as a starter, with a .453 slugging percentage, 16 extra-base hits including eight homers, and a .779 OPS in his 33 starts. Oh, and the Cardinals are 18-15 when Martinez starts a game.

Martinez bounces off the bench and hits, with a .733 slug and 1.193 OPS when entering the game as a substitute.

And he  really pinch-hits and hits big, having worked over pitchers for a .471 average and 1.503 OPS in a difficult PH role.

I’m thinking the Cardinals could use some more of that — so  push it.

Instead of putting Martinez at the No. 6 spot in the lineup or lower, I hope manager Mike Matheny stays with Martinez at cleanup. Martinez gave the Cardinals some desperately needed punch from the middle-lineup on Sunday, banging a double and lofting a grand-slam homer in the Cardinals’ 13-4 romp at Cincinnati.

So give Martinez a chance to fill that truck-tire-sized hole in the weak middle of the lineup.

Before Martinez busted open Sunday’s game with the slam — four RBIs on one swing — the Cardinals were famished at leadoff.

With Jedd Gyorko suffering through his most acute slump of the season, the Cardinals entered Sunday’s game with only a .151 average, .209 slugging percentage, one homer, and six RBIs from the No. 4 spot since the All-Star break.

That included a 19-game stretch leading into Sunday that saw Gyorko and other cleanup occupants deliver only one RBI … ONE … in 77 plate appearances.

How unimposing are the Cardinals’ three-four-five spots in the lineup?

Well, Eddie Gaedel passed away in 1961.

Had Eddie come along later, he may have been a candidate to bat fourth for the 2017 Cardinals.

If you combine the 3-4-5 slots and view them as one block of offense, the Cardinals are thinner than Dee Gordon.

As a group — and compared to the other 29 teams — the St. Louis 3-4-5 hitters are last in slugging (.394), OPS (.719), RBIs (170), and homers (42). The three spots combined have a 90 wRC+,  which is 10 percent below the league average. That ranks 28th.

Cardinals cleanup men have slugged a low-end .420 this season.

There is nothing to risk by turning Martinez loose for a while as your cleanup hitter.

Well, nothing to lose except games.

Am I overreacting to Martinez’ rollicking good time Sunday at The Great American Ball Park?

Well, perhaps a little.

Then again …

From July 1 through Saturday Aug. 5 the Cardinals’ No. 4 hitters had a .180 batting average, .255 OBP, .287 slug and a .542 OPS in 137 plate appearances that produced three homers and 14 RBIs.

My goodness.

It gets worse: the Cards’ park-adjusted runs created (wRC+) over that time was a stunning  55 percent below league average for the No. 4 lineup spot.

So yeah, call me a loon for wanting to see Martinez bat cleanup for a while.

Besides his limited body of work is absolutely impressive.

In 167 plate appearances this season Martinez is hitting .286 wth a .355 OBP and .510 slug for an .866 OPS. Among Cardinals with at least 100 PA this year, Martinez is second to Tommy Pham in OPS, and second to Paul DeJong in slugging.

DeJong has the best home-run ratio on the team — one homer per 14.5 at-bats, but Martinez is second, averaging a homer every 18.3 at-bats.

In park-adjusted runs created (wRC+) Pham leads the Cardinals at 40 percent above league average.

Martinez, at 23 percent higher than league average, ranks second.

Besides Pham, when we use park-adjusted runs created to scan the offensive performances by Cardinals outfielders (minimum 100 PA), Martinez is 41 percent higher than Randal Grichuk, 33 percent better than Stephen Piscotty, and 19 percent above Dexter Fowler.

Fowler will likely return from the DL this week. Assuming Fowler will play frequently, what does that mean for the Cardinals’ roster and lineup?

Thoughts:

1. The Cardinals already demoted Martinez once this season when he didn’t deserve it. Since promoted back to the big team on July 13, Martinez is batting .318 with a .500 OBP, .773 slug and a 1.273 OPS. That represents only 32 plate appearances. Small sample and all of that. Yeah, and maybe this is the point: the Cardinals need to expand that sample size by giving Martinez more swings.

If the Cardinals send Martinez down and keep Grichuk and Piscotty on the 25-man roster, what kind of message does this send? A lot of bad messages.

Including: performance doesn’t matter … job decisions aren’t based on merit … if you ignore terrific performances and give special treatment to preferred players, then you aren’t trying to win, period.

I don’t think the Cardinals will demote Martinez.

2. In a similar vein, there would be no justification in putting Martinez on the bench while giving more starts to Piscotty and/or Grichuk. Again, what’s the priority here? Don’t tell us it’s all about winning when you don’t utilize your best players and go with inferior hitters instead.

Play Martinez while he’s hot. When he cools down, then adjust accordingly. If he has to go back to the bench, fine. But don’t put him on the bench when he’s hoisting your tired offense.

Martinez deserves to play until he   doesn’t  deserve to play.

And play Martinez because others are mired in terrible slumps or maddening inconsistency.

Play Martinez as a cleanup hitter while giving Gyorko a little time regroup.

And play Martinez because he’s paid too many dues for too many years and he’s still as hungry as ever. His energy and enthusiasm — backed by strong numbers — are healthy for the Cardinals.

Play Martinez because he’s earned it. And on a team that’s pulled down by one of the most lethargic offenses in the NL, playing time must be earned … and not handed away like a free ticket.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

More: Miklasz – Thanks, Cubs! Despite Their Losing Record the Cardinals Remain Oddly Undead

  • Richard Craig Friedman

    Absolutely!

  • rightthinker4

    IF, is a mighty big word. Maybe the Cardinals would do better, IF the manager would put the best players in the lineup. Neither Grichuk or Piscotty should be in the lineup. Pham, Martinez, and Fowler when he’s healthy, should be the outfielders on a regular basis. If Fowler can’t play, option Grichuk and Piscotty to Memphis and bring up Sierra and Bader. Platoon Carpenter and Voit. Gyorko, DeJong, Molina, and Wong get most of the playing time. If Gyorko keeps stinking it up, play Garcia at 3B.

  • JeremyR

    Pete Gray, the one armed outfielder for the Browns, probably would have been a better analogy

  • Scott Reiman

    Why would they bring Bader back up he had a K rate of almost 40%
    and slugged .381

    • In 21 at bats. Textbook example of SSS. The main reason they should leave Bader in the minors is because he’ll play once every ten games with the big club.

  • Sun Bear

    A few things to add…

    –That grand slam came against the pitcher with the worst ERA in baseball and would not have been a home run in 21/30 MLB ballparks. Let’s not get too excited over one swing.

    –Martinez has hit .392 with 13 XBH against fastballs, sliders, and cutters. He’s hit .167 with 2 XBH against curveballs, changeups, and sinkers. Let’s hope pitchers don’t figure this out (they will).

    • silencedogoodreturns

      did you miss the rest of the column that talked about far more than the one swing?

      • Sun Bear

        Yes, 185 PA *is* far more than one swing–did you miss my second point?

        Bernie writes that “If Martinez is overexposed to MLB pitching, we may see his weaknesses exploited.” He’s already exposed to the degree that pitchers know he hasn’t done damage versus big league curveballs, changeups, sinkers.

    • geoff

      AHHH, but it came.

  • silencedogoodreturns

    I have no idea what personal trials Piscotty is going through this year, or if they even affect his performance. I DO know that you only have one mother, and baseball is just a game. He’ll have another 10 years anyway still to play in the bigs. When he looks back 10 years from now, would he rather have the rest of this season, or have time spent with his mother? He should take the rest of this season off from baseball and use it for more important things.

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  • ken

    after all these years, eddie gaedel is still taking his lumps.

  • Tarzan

    Spot on, Bernie! Play Martinez for Chrise Sakes!

  • geoff

    Martinez is not exactly what we have become accustomed to watching in a big league batter’s box,, but darn he is fun to watch. It is always fun to watch hungry players, guys who run out infield outs, tag up if the fielder has his back to the plate, hit behind a runner, take that outside pitch the other way, never see a saber-metric shift…you know…baseball players.

  • geoff

    Boy Bernie I hope you are right. Just a few short months ago you made the same declaration regarding Randy Grichuk. Boy Matheny sure has these guys playing up to snuff for these few games. He is pushing all the right buttons. He has the pitchers getting outs and the batters getting hits. WOW, I know three games is a small sample size but man, it sure looks like the team has turned the corner. I am going to sell my house today, then I am going to Vegas and bet it all on the Cards to win the world series. NO WAIT JUST A MINUTE!!!! I could be overreacting a bit here. Maybe I am giving Matheny too much credit for the players to actually do their jobs, kinda the same way he gets too much blame when they don’t. Maybe this is just one of those weird seasons where it is going to come down to the last day, not for which team will take charge but rather for which team can’t get out of its own way. Things could be worse though. Think of how frustrating it must be in Chicago where the best team ever assembled is being managed by the best manager who ever managed a game, not playing measurably better than the worst team ever assembled being managed by the worst manager ever to manage a team. It is difficult for me to understand the sabermetric that say Maddon is better than Matheny, considering their record this year. Or maybe that whole argument is just more of the bullcrap created by the disciples of the algorithm because when they watch the actual game they have no clue what they are seeing.

  • LawrenceKScardsfan

    Total agreement. Piscotty looks hurt and should be on the DL. Grichuk is a free swinging strikeout waiting to happen. Martinez should certainly be starting in RF. Put Pham in LF and Fowler in CF (but I’d really prefer for Pham to play CF).

    Again – this failure in performance extends beyond Matheny up to MO and DeWitt. The failure to get a bonafide closer in the off season really hurt. Starting the year with Peralta penciled in at 3rd really hurt. And why wasn’t Pham, JMart, and DeJong even on the forking radar????? Someone is clearly not doing their job.